Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Best Comics Are Still to be Made: an Interview with Tommi Musturi (Part Two)

Seven year-old Tommi Musturi, by seven year-old Tommi Musturi.

Whilst it may seem irreverent to some, Tommi Musturi is a creator who believes in the yet-untapped potentials of the comic form. As illustrated by the quote that we chose to head this interview with, his firm belief is that, given that the comic form, as we know it, is still very young, it is still developing. This perspective  can be seen in Tommi's own work, which, whilst rooted in his own influences from comic history past and present, is very much personal in terms of the creative impetus behind it.

Below you will find the concluding part of our interview with the man himself, featuring more talk about his views on comic books, his time creating graphics and print art within 1980s/1990s demoscene culture, how zines led him towards cartooning, and much more. Any interview that include talk Commodore 64s and R. Crumb have got to be worthwhile, right? Click here to read part one.

What attracts you to comics?

There are three things I've always mentioned: the first is the fact that comics are relatively easy to produce - you just need paper and something to draw with. It's only you who decides what happens on paper. This makes comics quite a pure way to express yourself as there's no one else to influence the work, not even money (at least in Finland). Ideally, you can do what you want. If you do it well, the result will be something unique. Of course this can be seen from the opposite, also; in the end you're responsible for everything. That should be taken as an adventure though.

The second thing that attracts me is the history of comics. It's still a very young art form and you can see it developing all the time. I like to experiment in my work and that's what we've also been doing with our anthology Glömp and, more recent publication, Kuti, a comic tabloid. In both of these we've been trying to "build bridges" towards other ways of expression that are close to comics: visual poetry and narrative images, for example.

In addition to that, the history of comics is quite short and the fact that it's been mostly part of popular culture also makes it interesting. It's relatively easy for people to grab a comic and start to read it, which would never happen with a book of new experimental poetry. So, I feel that comics are quite a fine way to actually get your thoughts spread to people. When I'm doing works like Samuel, I've even taken away the words, which makes it accessible for even more people. Just to mention there's an organization called World Comics in Finland that's been using comics to teach about AIDS around the world, for people without a common language.

The third thing that attracts me is in creating an image and story itself. It's sort of magical thing to see that something gets born in front of you. I never really get bored with it. It's an enlightening experience; I'm creating world of my own.

Walking with Samuel, from sketchpad to final work (2009)

Before your comic work, you were a respected demoscene contributor, creating computer graphics and cover art for floppy disks. How did this experience inform you as a creator?

I've drawn a lot since I was 9 years old, so that’s already 25+ years in total, quite a long time. I think it could be divided into three quite different periods: the demoscene, mail art culture and comics.

I started to really study drawing with a computer. My friends and I formed our first demo group at age of 9. My friend did the programming and  my other friend  and I the graphics. Later, there were some people who made the music. This was somewhere in 1985 and with the Commodore 64 that almost every boy in the school at that time had. Back then, drawing with computer meant creating an image pixel by pixel with a joystick. There were lots of limitations with colours etc. and also with the software used - it may sound weird, but we didn't really have any idea that such action as "undo" would become reality someday. Anyway, it took lots of time and patience but also taught me many tricks on how images actually are constructed. Later on, we started also draw special covers for the floppy discs that were used in those days; these covers were made for our group but also for many others similar to us around Europe. That was time before internet but we had been in contact with other groups through snail mail and BBS'. 

I can say now that this demoscene period was, for me, mostly technical practice. Thematically the images I made were just what a teenage boy would usually draw : skulls, dragons, half-naked women, skateboards and some more skulls. I think I drew around 300 bitmap fonts back then, around 200 images and around 50 disc covers. I used some of these images to make a fun release entitled Death to Most a couple of years ago. I think I'll do another one when I have time. There's a big archive of material, actually. I'd still like to make more for the demoscene, with the old machines from the 1980s. Got big pile of them back home. They appear somehow pretty human to me these days.

Death to Most - between 1986-1992 (published in 2008)

After I had started to draw the disc covers on paper, I got more and more into drawing also without computer. As I had been in contact with lots of people from abroad already, swapping demos and cracks, I also started to trade music tapes with some of the contacts. Through that I got some fanzines, which lead to me and a friend from the demoscene group starting one of our own. We were 15 years old and Sickness was the name of it. It was about music, splatter movies and trash culture. In the end we made five issues that were sold in the school, through mail or at gigs. We wrote about all kinds of metal (death, thrash, black), grindcore, later about punk and more experimental stuff that I was heading towards. For this fanzine I drew a lot of illustrations, and soon this activity seemed more important than the work I had been doing for demoscene. 

As we were trading our fanzine with others like us, I got lots of zines and started sending drawings to those too. This kind of lead to a period when I was mostly drawing just single images, some record covers etc. I even did some tattoo flash that I sent to American magazines, who published some and I got paid for my art for the first time. Anyway, this period resulted in few hundred drawings that are mostly very detailed but not yet thematically that interesting. However, I really got into drawing in those days, and at the age of 17 decided to apply for an art school instead of university where I had planned to study maths. 

Guess it was sort of a disappointment for my parents as they'd wished me to become an engineer or something. Also, my dad's brother worked as a fine artist, but it wasn't really seen as "real job" that you could make your living with. I came from a labouring family and it was time of the 90s depression, so it was kind of important thing for them. I understand that now.

Anyway, the third period I already briefly described. Going to art school is the reason I'm making comics these days. I met some people who had already made lots of comics and, in all, we had maybe ten people that wanted to try it out. First we started a small weekly (!) magazine called Buli. The name actually changed every time. Anyway, it was A6 size, just 16-32 pages each issue. We sold it cheaply to buy ourselves booze, actually; later we started to use the money to buy other comics at festivals to make a small library for the school. When we left the school we had already got one meter of books there, which we were proud of. We managed to make 50 issues of this small zine; it was sort of a playground, not only comics but also illustration. The pace got slower towards the end and I think it took three years to do those 50 issues actually. Anyway, it was sort of group effort that later developed into Glömp and Pole anthologies that both has origin in the Lybecker art school in the northern part of Finland. Ten issues and 12 years later Glömp is now over and it's time to make something new again.

The cover of the Musturi-edited GlömpX (2009)

Do you feel there are certain technical or thematic aspects that unify your work?

What comes to technical aspect, I think I've always been interested in very detailed works and narrative images - sort of images that you can go into and wander around, finding new characters and making up new stories inside your head This comes from my childhood also; I used to read lots of comics back then and my favourites were Italian comic Cocco Bill by Jacovitti and East German comic The Digedags by Hannes Hegen. These both contain lots of details in the drawing and the stories are long enough to have many twists here and there. Cocco Bill I really like still, but The Digedags seems pretty poor now. I think I partly liked it because no one else of my friends' had really read it - as it was from DDR [German Democratic Republic] and the period was still the 80s and was only sold through a club called "Friends of the Soviet Union" that my parents' belonged to. That was actually the only comic they sold if I can recall. So, I enjoyed this comic sold by the communists, a comic that told stories of the Wild West in States, in search of the "American Dream".

Thematically, my work has been more coherent only after the year 2000. I'm interested in "the big questions" of life and humanity. Meanwhile, I've gotten interested in expressing and experimenting with comic form. Also, as I said, I'm fascinated in "the magic of image", to be able to create something completely new, to create illusions. I think my comics are pretty much mixture of these things.

One of the things that I found most interesting about your interview with 8 Bit Today was your explanation of how working with the C64 contributed to your sense of “building” an image. What else influences your visual process?

Well, the basic influence that pushes me to do something is just ordinary life around me: nature, people, society; the more ordinary the better. I'm also working as part of the comic art collective Kutikuti that's based in Helsinki. Being surrounded by other people creating is also inspiring. A year ago I moved to Tampere which is about two hours by train from Helsinki. I go to our studio less often now, and, of course, I miss it. It's more difficult to go through the struggles that making a comic always includes alone. 

Apart from this, I'm inspired by literature, mainly. My girlfriend is a poet and we both buy and get too many books - too many really to be able to read everything. We need a bigger flat soon again. After this June there have been around two-hundred new arrivals already - a two meter pile. 

While drawing I listen to music, it's been always like that. Not really anything specifically, there's good stuff in every genre. Maybe it's bit experimental mostly, from noisy guitars to free jazz and Jandek. On the other hand I really like artists like John Fahey and JJ Niles, Os Mutantes and psychedelia etc. Mix it all together, that's the best way. When I sketch, I go to a cafe or bar, and been doing that daily for a long time.

An example of Tommi's colouring process, as originally seen on Musturi's blog.

What are your favourite comic books of all time?

That's a difficult question. I don't like to rank anything. There is good stuff and bad stuff, mediocre is the worst. To be honest, there aren't so many good comics made if you compare with other arts. I think the best comics are still to be made. At the moment there are interesting artists doing very good books. I really like most of what Ruppert & Mulot have done and the two books from Olivier Schrauwen are just mind-blowing. C.F.'s Powr Mastrs is very good, I just hope he manages to get to the final issue. Gary Panter is always good. All these four we've published here in Finland also. I also like a lot Yuichi Yokoyama's work. Swedish Joakim Pirinen is really good and inspired me a lot when I started, it's still good. From the older ones I bow to Edward Gorey, McCay and Crumb, of course. That stuff never gets old.

As told, I'm working in Finland at Kutikuti studio which, in my honest opinion, gathers many good artists together. Amanda Vähämäki and Aapo Rapi are very good both and you can expect a lot from them. Aapo's Meti (that's just now about to be released in French) is one of the best comic books I've read. 70s Finnish artist Kalervo Palsa (who died during 80s) combined heartbreaking stories with very explicit material. Matti Hagelberg is always good and so is Jyrki Nissinen, a guy a bit younger than me that hasn't really been translated so much into other languages. We'll try to get him to MoCCA next spring so you'll see...

As said earlier, comics are a young art form with a short history, still taking steps forward. I hope to read better comics in the future, if the future still contains comics. I hope so, but I can see the margins struggling everywhere. Well, it's not only comics, all the margins are getting smaller, while mainstream is turning into something I call "the collective mind".

1 comment:

  1. Really good article - and wonderful work by Tommi.
    He never stops inspiring.